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North Korea visitors no longer eligible for visa-free travel to U.S.

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korea visitors no longer eligible for visa-free travel to U.S.
Citizens of countries eligible under the United States' Visa Waiver Program must apply for U.S. visas if they have traveled to North Korea after March 2011. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Foreign passport holders who are eligible to visit the United States visa-free may no longer be able to do so under the United States' Visa Waiver Program if they have visited North Korea after March 1, 2011.

The new policy from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is most likely to have the greatest impact on South Korea, a VWP country, South Korean news services Newsis and Kyunghyang Shinmun reported Tuesday.

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Seoul's foreign ministry said in statement it has received direct communication from the U.S. State Department regarding the change in policy, which comes at a time when the South Korean government continues to pursue a policy of engagement in spite of recent North Korea weapons tests.

All South Korean passport holders are eligible to travel visa-free to the United States, provided they submit an Electronic System for Travel Authorization application at least 72 hours prior to travel.

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South Korean citizens who visited the North in the past decade for non-governmental purposes are no longer eligible for ESTA, which facilitates travel authorization online. All foreign nationals of VWP countries must now apply for a separate visa in person by visiting a U.S. embassy.

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The policy is likely to disproportionately affect South Korean passport holders; a total of 37,000 South Korean citizens have visited the North for unofficial reasons since March 2011, according to Seoul unification ministry statistics.

There are also no exceptions for South Korea's top business executives who visited Pyongyang in 2018 as part of a delegation that accompanied President Moon Jae-in last September. Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, Chey Tae-won of SK Group and Hyun Jung-eun, chairwoman of the Hyundai Group, all visited the North as private citizens.

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The restrictions are the latest implementation of the United States' Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015. In 2017, North Korea was re-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.

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